Brant felt a wave of uncontrollable sympathy sweep across him, even while he was beginning to hate this man, who, he felt, had stolen a passage into the innocent heart of a girl not half his age, one knowing little of the ways of the world. He saw again that bare desert, with those two half-dead figures clasped in each other’s arms, and felt that he understood the whole miserable story of a girl’s trust, a man’s perfidy.
“May I walk beside you until you meet him?” he asked.
“You will not quarrel?”
“No; at least not through any fault of mine.”
A few steps in the moonlight and she again took his arm, although they scarcely spoke. At the bridge she withdrew her hand and uttered a peculiar call, and Hampton stepped forth from the concealing bushes, his head bare, his hat in his hand.
“I scarcely thought it could be you,” he said, seemingly not altogether satisfied, “as you were accompanied by another.”
The younger man took a single step forward, his uniform showing in the moonlight. “Miss Gillis will inform you later why I am here,” he said, striving to speak civilly. “You and I, however, have met before—I am Lieutenant Brant, of the Seventh Cavalry.”
Hampton bowed, his manner somewhat stiff and formal, his face inpenetrable.
“I should have left Miss Gillis previous to her meeting with you,” Brant continued, “but I desired to request the privilege of calling upon you to-morrow for a brief interview.”
“Shall it be at ten?”
“The hour is perfectly satisfactory. You will find me at the hotel.”
“You place me under obligations,” said Brant, and turned toward the wondering girl. “I will now say good-night, Miss Gillis, and I promise to remember only the pleasant events of this evening.”
Their hands met for an instant of warm pressure, and then the two left behind stood motionless and watched him striding along the moonlit road.
THE VERGE OF A QUARREL
Brant’s mind was a chaos of conflicting emotions, but a single abiding conviction never once left him—he retained implicit faith in her, and he purposed to fight this matter out with Hampton. Even in that crucial hour, had any one ventured to suggest that he was in love with Naida, he would merely have laughed, serenely confident that nothing more than gentlemanly interest swayed his conduct. It was true, he greatly admired the girl, recalled to memory her every movement, her slightest glance, her most insignificant word, while her marvellous eyes constantly haunted him, yet the dawn of love was not even faintly acknowledged.